National religious right legal firm gets involved in MSHSL’s trans-inclusive proposal

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a well-funded religious right legal outfit, has inserted itself into the debate over a transgender-inclusive athletics policy being considered by the Minnesota State High School League.ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, was founded in 1994 by half a dozen prominent religious right groups including Focus on the Family, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the American Family Association. The group opposes reproductive rights, LGBT rights, and a secular society, and often uses its lawyers to insert itself into local debates.On Tuesday, the group announced that it has sent a letter to the Minnesota State High School League which is in the process of drafting a framework for how schools can create an inclusive environment for transgender athletes.The letter represents a fundamental misunderstandings about transgender students, misgendering them in the process: “Forcing students into vulnerable interactions with members of the opposite sex in secluded locker and hotel rooms disregards basic notions of personal dignity, which federal courts have recognized in a variety of contexts…. MSHSL and its member schools also have a common law duty to maintain school “property free of unreasonable risks of harm.”ADF also warned that religious schools might sue if the policy is implemented: “It is unlikely that a court would uphold the proposed transgender policy’s interference with religious freedom. Most, if not all, religious schools regard facilitating the denial and rejection of one’s God-given sex to be a grave sin. And religious students are precluded by basic modesty principles from sharing locker or hotel rooms with members of the opposite sex.”The group is also targeting transgender-inclusive policies in Wisconsin’s Sparta Area School District and Rhode Island’s Westerly Public Schools.Here’s the full letter:Download (PDF, 374KB)Related stories:Minnesota League tables trans-inclusive policy under mounting opposition (Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet, 2014)State athletics league mulls transgender inclusion in sports (Andy Birkey, The, 2014) Continue Reading

Rep. Ellison, African American community leaders meet to address HIV, disparities

Community organizations and elected leaders met on Monday to discuss the growing epidemic of HIV in the African American community in Minnesota, and lack of equity in resources. Participants said they hope the meeting is a starting point for more robust action by community organization and politicians to secure resources and fight disparities.Rep. Keith Ellison and state Sen. Jeff Hayden met with representatives of HIV outreach organizations, people living with HIV, and African American community leaders at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change on Monday afternoon. The event was called, “Fighting HIV and STI Disparities in the African American Community.”Pastor DeWayne Davis of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church served as moderator.“We want to highlight the growing disparities among African Americans in Minnesota with respect to HIV and [sexually transmitted infections] and bring awareness to the lack of services for hiv prevention in this community and we want to begin that dialogue,” he said.DeWayne noted that the HIV epidemic is tied to the larger inequities that African Americans face in Minnesota.“You cannot begin to address the issues that affect any community without having open and honest dialogue and the reality is, in the context of Minnesota, that dialogue is much more than HIV. We are having it in the context of larger issues around sex and sexuality, race and privilege issues, competition for limited government and public resources, the larger context of health, socioeconomic and education disparities this conservation happens in that larger context, and it is incumbent upon all of us who not only care about this issues, but other issues also, that these issues don’t get left out of the discussion.”Jessica Brehmer, an epidemiologist from the Minnesota Department of Health, gave an overview of how HIV has impacted the African American community. Brehmer noted that 22 percent of people living with HIV in the state are African American despite making up only 4 percent of the population. Continue Reading

Facing pressure from anti-LGBT groups, Minnesota league tables trans-inclusive policy

On Thursday morning, the Minnesota State High School League tabled a proposal that would provide guidance to schools on inclusion of transgender students in high school sports.For two hours on Wednesday afternoon, and again on Thursday morning, supporters and opponents of transgender inclusion in high school sports took turns giving their input about the proposed policy.Though the MSHSL announced last spring that is was researching transgender inclusion, the issue did not ignite until an anti-LGBT group placed a full page ad in the Star Tribune that painted transgender students as dangerous. The Minnesota Child Protection League placed the ad, and have been joined by the Minnesota Family Council and the Minnesota Catholic Conference — two groups opposed to LGBT rights — in organizing opposition to the policy. Most of the speakers in opposition to the policy had a connection with either the Child Protection League or the Minnesota Family Council.Autumn Leva of Minnesota Family Council complained that that group’s letters to the MSHSL weren’t responded to. Her group is housed at the office building at 2855 St. Anthony Lane in Minneapolis. Continue Reading

Star Tribune runs full-page anti-transgender ad

The Minnesota Child Protection League, an anti-LGBT group that opposes LGBT inclusion in the state’s public schools, bought an ad in the Sunday Star Tribune. The ad says, “A male wants to shower beside your 14 year old daughter. Are you okay with that?”The ad is part of a push by MNCPL to stop the Minnesota State High School League from passing a policy that would provide inclusion for transgender athletes. The Catholic Church and the religious right have mounted a campaign to block it. In the process, they’ve perpetuated false stereotypes about transgender people, including the myth that transgender students will prey on fellow students in locker rooms, showers, restrooms and hotel rooms. According to many law enforcement, civil rights and sexual assault prevention organizations, the idea that transgender inclusion will put anyone at risk is unfounded.Related article: State athletics league mulls transgender inclusion in sportsThe Minnesota State High School League is “a voluntary, nonprofit association of public and private schools with a history of service to Minnesota’s high school youth since 1916.” The MSHSL oversees much of the athletics in the state.According to the proposed policy, transgender high school students can play on the team of their choice (male or female) but must have a physician’s documentation and in some cases must have begun hormone therapy to “preserve competitive equity.” The MSHSL policy also provides transgender students avenues for corrective action if a school district does not comply.The MSHSL will meet on Wednesday, Oct. 1, and Thursday, Oct. Continue Reading

State athletics league mulls transgender inclusion in sports

The Minnesota State High School League is set to vote next week on whether to allow transgender high schools students to participate in athletics based on their gender identity.The Minnesota State High School League is “a voluntary, nonprofit association of public and private schools with a history of service to Minnesota’s high school youth since 1916.” The MSHSL oversees much of the athletics in the state.According to the policy, transgender high school students can play on the team of their choice (male or female) but have to have a physician’s documentation and in some cases must have begun hormone therapy to “preserve competitive equity.” The MSHSL policy also provides transgender students avenues for corrective action if a school district does not comply.The new policy will be discussed in a workshop on Oct. 1 and the full MSHSL is expected to vote on the policy on Oct. 2.Associations in Illinois, California, Maine, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut have had similar policies for several years. Even associations in states that are considered conservative have adopted such policies including Nebraska in 2012, and North Carolina and Virginia in 2014. Minnesota’s neighbors to the south and west have also approved of the policies. Continue Reading

Minneapolis mulls gender neutral restrooms

An antiquated Minneapolis code relating to the service industry forces many businesses to have gendered restrooms, but a policy change passed by a city committee could change that.At the Health, Environment, and Community Engagement Committee meeting on Monday morning, community members voiced their support for change to city code that would allow businesses to make their facilities more accessible for transgender customers.Tom DeGree, owner of Wilde Roast Cafe and Matties on Main, testified about the challenges his business has faced as it has expanded.DeGree noted that ten years ago when he and his partner opened Wilde Roast Cafe, a LGBT coffee shop in northeast Minneapolis, the business was able to have two nongender bathrooms.“A lot of the transgender community found us as a safe place, and from an economic stance, it’s best to have people have a safe place,” he said.But as business grew and they opened Wilde Roast in a new location on the riverfront, the business bumped up against the city code.The new building “had two predetermined bathrooms. A lot of people from the transgender community didn’t feel as comfortable and voiced their concerns.”When DeGree opened Mattie’s on Main earlier this year, they decided to buck the city code.“We were told by the city that we had to have very specific bathrooms that had male and female on them,” he said. But the business decided to go ahead with gender neutral bathrooms. “When we opened up and went forward with business in May, we just did it.”Council member Cam Gordon quipped, “I don’t think anybody [from the city] is going to come after you.”The proposed city changes would mean non-gendered, single-user restrooms can be put in place of gendered facilities for small businesses.Many testifiers noted that making restrooms trans-friendly actually makes them friendlier for just about everyone.Dylan Flunker, a transgender parent of a 3 year old, noted, “Before I was able to medically transition, I had a lot of uneasy bathroom experiences.”“When using the appropriate bathroom for your gender, people would say, ‘What are you doing?’” Flunker said it was “a very uneasy 3-4 year period of my life where I did not use public restrooms.”Now, as a parent with a 3 year old, Flunker notes that single use, gender neutral facilities are great for parents.“When 3 year old has to go, she has to go and single stall bathrooms are the easiest for us to access.”Claire, male-to-female transgender woman, relayed her experiences.“With obvious issues of me being transgender and using gender specific bathrooms… I have been accosted and threatened in male bathrooms, and questioned and peaked on in female bathrooms. Technically, I’m not allowed in anybody’s bathrooms.”Claire noted that many of Minneapolis’ suburbs allow for gender neutral restrooms. “I think it’s time Minneapolis caught up with the suburbs and do what needs to be done.”She also noted that she has three children with disabilities and one is a teenager. That makes it difficult to use gendered facilities.The proposed changes passed the committee unanimously. They were proposed by City Council member Andrew Johnson of the 12th Ward. He’d been working on the issue accessible restrooms before he ran for office.Johnson said, “It’s a great ordinance…. Continue Reading